A few weeks back, I participated in a community service event. The event paired members of the organization that I was in with kids in a poor local school district. Our mission was to clean up trash at a community park, plant flowers, and generally give these kids a chance to get away from the burdens of everyday life. I was paired up with a very sweet, happy and smart girl – all I knew about her going into the event was that she is 9 years old, has multiple siblings, and loves animals. From our discussion that day, it was clear that her family struggles financially and that the situation at home is probably not ideal.
At lunchtime, the organization that I was with provided brown bag lunches from a local deli – LARGE sandwiches, chips, water and an apple. I was about to bite into my sandwich when I noticed that the kids sitting around me were devouring; rather, INHALING their sandwiches. As I looked around, it occurred to me that for many of these children, school may be the only place that they receive a hot and/or balanced meal. I looked over at my “pal” and caught her sneaking her entire lunch intact into her backpack. She pretended to be “stuffed.”
I quickly wrapped up my sandwich “You know what? I’m not hungry, I’m just thirsty. Would you like my lunch? I’ll get some cups and we can share the water.” She nodded, indicating that she wanted the apple. I pushed my brown bag towards her and she devoured the entire lunch (except the chips) in about 3 minutes.
“I’m glad we’re here because otherwise, I’d be in school and SCHOOL STINKS.”
I laughed at that statement. “I loved school when I was your age.”
“I don’t…it’s BORING. And I hate homework. But you know what my teacher says? She told me that if I study hard, I can someday become an animal doctor, and I LOVE ANIMALS. And you know what I’m going to do when I’m an animal doctor?”
“I’m going to make enough money to buy myself a real house where I don’t have to share a room with any of my (eight) brothers and sisters.”
“I think that’s a GREAT plan!! If you keep studying, you can be a great animal doctor. And you’ll never have to share a room again unless you want to.”
“I’ll only share my room with my dogs.”
At that moment, I wanted (and still want) to do more for these kids, but at that moment, the only thing I could think of was to show gratitude towards the people who make a difference in these kids’ lives; their teachers. As I was leaving, I went up to my pal’s teacher and thanked her for her patience, her kindness, and for teaching these children the important lesson about the value of their education; about how, with determination and hard work, these kids can aspire to have such dreams as becoming a veterinarian and buying a home where no one has to share a bedroom. Twenty years from now, I fully hope and expect to look in the yellow pages under “veterinarian” and find a listing for this little girl with a very real dream.
The experience made me realize truly how lucky I and my kids are…my children have NO IDEA. While I tried to explain to them how they were very lucky to be born into our family, the entire concept still evades them; understandably so. My daughter felt bad for the girl and asked me to buy the little girl more toys, but when I asked my daughter to maybe choose some toys that are not used anymore, she couldn’t understand why she had to give up her own stuff. My son merely asked if we could invite these kids over for a play-date. Feeling empathy is the first step in the process of educating my kids that fate was kind to them, but I hope that my children grow up to understand that there is REAL life outside of their little bubble and that they are not entitled to everything they get.